Not Home

A sharp electronic tone cut through the air, a repeating scream to return to consciousness. Delphine watched as her host stumbled in the dark, pawing at the wall for light before silencing the alarm. She watched as Megan dug through her closet, seeking out her normal dress in favor of the cloak’s embrace. She seemed rushed, like she was trying to make an escape. They spoke briefly before parting as Megan dashed out the door, headed back to the diner for another day’s work. Delphine sighed.

You never knew what you’d get with any new acolyte. Well, not an acolyte in this case, but new all the same. Fresh to the world that existed parallel to her own. Full of that youthful exuberance, the whimsy of seeing something more than you’d ever dreamed. Delphine remembered the feeling, long ago as it was. She mused on her own introduction into this world as she set about setting everything as it had been when she arrived. She smiled as she scrawled out a note, tucking it under her earlier gift to Megan. She wondered how long it would take for curiosity to give way to temptation.

Delphine finished tidying the kitchen. Everything as it had been when she arrived. Save for the note, she couldn’t risk any trace of her passing through. Once she was satisfied that her work was complete, she checked the locks and turned off the lights, her fingers tracing the wall as she returned to the bedroom. Drawing her cloak around her, she sat cross-legged on the floor at the foot of Megan’s bed, closed her eyes, and began the incantation. In her mind’s eye, she watched the ground below her give way, a gaping sinkhole into the soil below stretching out beneath her. She saw herself drift into the Earth’s gaping maw as the land sewed itself back into place above her. She saw flickers, reflections in the blackness skipping past her vision in faint flashes. She felt herself become one with the dirt.

When she opened her eyes, Delphine was standing in the dark. Dim streetlights hung to one side, and wild shadows stood above her on the other. The park. It wasn’t a bad landing; only a five minute walk back. She could get some more rest; while the sun was rising on Megan’s day, Delphine had nearly three more hours before it would find her again. She glanced around to be sure she was alone, then pointed herself towards home.

No, not home. That didn’t seem the right word. Sure, she had her own cot every night, but the shelter didn’t offer the other amenities that came from having a real home. Privacy. Quiet. No, those things didn’t come with the territory here, but it was better than nothing. Hell, it was probably better than a lot of things. People caught in relationships they secretly hate, sharing their entire lives with the ones they despise. People caught under the terror of abuse. People locked in jails for things they didn’t even do. At least she was free. Well, mostly free. Free enough.

Quietly making her way inside, Delphine found an open cot and laid down. She’d slept well enough, but they’d — well, been up late. You really never did know what you’d get. It wasn’t like her to get swept up in their wild reactions, but it had been one hell of a weekend. A slice of what normal life might be like, if she could dig her way out of here. It wasn’t as easy as all that, though; even with an income, everyone’s looking for rental history, for your last three addresses, references, all that crap. These weren’t things you could go out and pick up from the mall after a good week’s work.

She drifted in and out of sleep, listening to the shuffling around her during her moments of lucidity. It had been nice to get away from it, but she didn’t want to risk losing everything. They had to stay together, and a flash-in-the-pan romance sure as shit didn’t facilitate that. She did regret the hurry of the morning, but she didn’t want to overstay her welcome. Sending Megan off to return to her usual routine was cruel, but necessary. Above all else, keeping up the appearance of fitting in to society was important. That was one advantage she had over most here; whatever the circumstance might call for, she could dress the part.

Eventually, dawn broke and the kitchen sprung to life. She wasn’t on the cooking crew today, so her tardiness was excusable. Today was dishwashing duty. It wasn’t a particularly glamorous task, but it was something to do to feel useful and earn her keep. She ate in silence, like she always did. Most around here weren’t exactly social butterflies, and those who were soon learned to keep to each other — especially during meals. Everyone had their routine, no matter what path their life took. Everyone played their part in the grand performance of life. Most of them would never really know their role, what their existence meant on a longer timeline. Most didn’t really seem to care.

It was different for her, though, and for the rest of the Five, all of the initiates and acolytes. They still had their routines, their parts to play, and their roles to fulfill, but with an actor’s awareness of their placement. Sure, not even Lillian had the whole script, but they knew enough of the design to understand what needed to be done here and now. They couldn’t act on impulse — not when it counted. The strategy had been in play since long before Delphine had been born, but now relied on her ability to maintain it. Everything that happened with Olivia — it put everyone in danger. Olivia was a global threat.

She finished her meal and made her way to the back of the kitchen. The stereo in the corner was rattling out something between static and heavy metal; she couldn’t tell what was intentional or not in the varying distortions. She stepped to a sink and set to scraping, spraying, scrubbing, and racking everything that came in. She was quick at it, now, but there were more living here than there had been when she arrived. Whatever it was that was unfolding in the world around her, it seemed that an increasing number of down-on-their-luck folks found their way to this doorstep.

Once the dishes were done, she and the others went their separate ways. Some would stay here, backing up other work crews to stay in good graces. Some would hit the streets, playing instruments or simply silently begging for coins. Others would take a bus or carpool to a normal job, somewhere downtown or near the university or — well, away from here, the place that polite society liked to support but didn’t want to see. Delphine’s day was likely to be something more unique.

At least, that’s how it turned out to be. Her friend’s face was on a small TV in the corner; that didn’t seem right. She stepped closer and caught the tail end of what sounded like an inflammatory rant disguised as news. They were calling Celia terrible things, accusing her of ties to some nebulous group of extremists in a far-off land. It didn’t make any damn sense — what could she have possibly done? Whatever the talking head on the screen had to say, Delphine knew that he was wrong. This wasn’t a report, it was a smear campaign on national television.

This was a declaration of war.

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